Infatuation, Blindness & Emergency Surgery

Monday, March 21, 2011

Reader Alert: Mega Post – The time to jump ship is now!



THE SEEPING WOUND

I’m in love with three women. They’re characters in a work-in-progress I thought was close to completion. That flight of fancy has died a painful death thanks to (a) a sharp reviewer, who ripped the scales and the rose-coloured spectacles from my eyes and (b) some really good critique partners, who kept telling me what I didn’t want to hear.

What’s that sound, you ask?

My gut-wrenching sigh.

Yes folks, this story is not even close to being done. Don’t you just hate that? You think you have a project all nicely wrapped up, only the ribbon left to tie, and then the stuff inside starts leaking.

I’ve resisted rewriting the initial chapters for so long because I’ve never done a major overhaul. I’m in awe of people who discard chapters and start writing them from scratch. The closest I’ve come to that is when I was working on Contraband (see first book cover in the sidebar).  That was simpler though; after a four-and-a-half year editing stint, I moved the third and fourth chapters and made them chapters one and two. 

This time, it’s not going to be so easy. At times (like now) I’m convinced I’ve taken on more than I’m capable of as a writer. I’ve tackled a difficult subject – adultery – and I have not one, but two cheating women in the sane story. It’s hard for some readers to get past personal beliefs about the subject matter and dive in with an open mind, particular when good reasons for certain actions aren’t evident. The comments on my story page tell me that.

I think I’ve made the characters more sympathetic, but now I have the problem of making the story more compelling. My first chapter covers the main character’s time with her lover, after which she goes home to a neglectful husband, but a reviewer pointed out that there wasn’t enough to keep her reading. I’ve been told nothing really happens and that everything’s too easy for the MC.

What?  
The woman’s just had a run-in with her husband and after some mental agony decides she needs to end the affair because it’s plain wrong and pulling her away from her daughter, and the already alienated spouse.

What’s not to like?

Well, for one, a critique partner pointed out that after ‘a hell of an opening line’, I need to keep up with her expectations. She also insists my MC needs to have more of a reason to cheat than neglect. She was thinking that a major sexual drought (longer than the period in the story) would make my MC ripe for bad behaviour.

Waaaah!

I’m totally discombobulated.

What to do?

THE PLASTER ON THE CUT


I’ve gone in and subtracted the writer’s voice from the narrative, that is, I’ve gone deeper into Justine’s (MC) head and taken out the writerly language. See samples below. 

Old snippet:    He murmured in her ear, a reminder to muffle her cries. His warning brought back reality, which she preferred to keep at bay.  She closed her eyes and abandoned herself to his expertise.

Eyelids aflutter, she relished the intensity building at her core. Her cares slipped away on an orgasmic tide. Her heart thundered, she shuddered, squeezed her eyes shut and gasped his name.  He answered with a groan, which spurred her onward.  A kaleidoscope burst behind her eyelids and she fell from the pinnacle to which they always traveled together.

Then remorse came flooding back. 

New snippet:  He murmured in her ear, a reminder to muffle her cries. Eyelids aflutter, she bit her lip and focused on the intensity building between her thighs. Heart thudding, she shuddered, squeezed her eyes shut and gasped his name.  He answered with a groan, which fuelled her climax.  A kaleidoscope burst behind her eyelids and she fell from the pinnacle they always climbed together.    
Then remorse came flooding back. 

MAKING A DIAGNOSIS


I also have the mammoth task of sorting out my MC’s business.  What would make a woman with strong morals and firm religious beliefs cheat on her husband of ten years? Neglect by her husband, a problem he refuses to share, along with what’s now termed as erectile dysfunction, should be convincing mitigating factors, but they haven’t worked out that way.

Ya know, I’ve read hundreds of articles on the craft of writing and I’ve come across the ‘interview your character’ advice a time or two. I didn’t think it was clap-trap, but haven’t found it necessary to use that tactic before today. Usually, I know what my characters are about and what drives them. I’ve shown above what has driven Justine to do the unthinkable, however, I have to do some fancy footwork to convince my readers that this woman has no other road to travel than the one she has chosen. So yeah, some heart-to-heart, woman-to-woman dialogue is vital.

I’ve been so caught up with putting plasters on the problems these women have that I forgot the reader needs to know EVERYTHING about what drives them.  I’m so close to this trouble-filled trio and enthralled by their personalities that I have not been able to step back and view their situation from a distance.

THE HEALTHY STUFF

On the positive side, I’ve been told by readers that:-

  • They know a lot more about Jamaica and its culture.
  • Justine’s turmoil is theirs as they follow the tale of her obsession with her lover.
  •  The friends’ closeness is evident in that they support each other through some rough times, which makes the book a good read.
  • They know the voices of the women without looking at the name in the chapter headings.  
THE FIX AKA INVASIVE SURGERY

My first course of action was to read the ‘First Scene’ chapter in Make A Scene by Jordan E. Rosenfeld (good book!). I have no doubt I’ll be reading those pages again and again before I even think of touching my first three chapters.

Secondly, having printed out the criticisms I’ve received, I’ll be looking at my opening chapters over the next few days. I hope to do this with an unbiased eye. I hope I’ll subdue the part of me that says I can’t rewrite the chapters and make them work. (I’ll restrain myself from telling you about the stress I’m beating away right now.) I hope to emerge with a shiny new opening that’ll wow my readers so they’ll want to consume the book in one sitting, or close to it. 

And I better get this right since this project is dear to my heart and I’m 99.99% sure I’ll be going the self-publishing route with it at the end of 2011.

CONSULTATION

I’ve belly-ached enough. It’s your time to share. Do you have any tips as to how you get over your infatuation with your characters and make your story sparkle? I sure would like to hear them.

Fire away!

32 comments:

  1. Wow, what an excellent post! I completely understand what you mean. I recently completed a novel, and now I'm faced with editing. I'm slowly realizing that I have to do a lot more editing than I thought. I'm contemplating re-writing several chapters. It's rather discouraging. The thing is to just stick in there! I do get attached to my characters, but I have to keep reminding myself to let them tell their own story. It's not mine to tell. It sounds kind of crazy, but if you actually listen to them, they'll tell you where the story should go. :)

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  2. Raquel, I'm hanging in there and reading and waiting to get back in the saddle. Listening to the characters will be key this next time around. Thanks for the encouragement.

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  3. I have found that sometimes it's easier to start from scratch than to edit what is there, although I have done both.

    A critical eye and good critique partners are wonderful to help you through.

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  4. Man, it's such a painful realization to realize you have more work ahead of you that you bargained for. Especially if you LOOOOOOOVED the manuscript just as it is. But if you really love these characters and the book, you're going to do what it takes to make it the best it can be, right? It doesn't make it any less difficult, but sometimes just acknowledging that there's a major flaw that needs fixed--and that you're willing to do what it takes to fix it--will help you get over that first hurdle. I'm on the third rewrite of the same book. I could just shelve it, but this story means too much to me, and I want to get it right. You can do this, too! It's clear to me how much you love your characters. Looking forward to seeing how you feel when the revisions are done!

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  5. Mary, starting over makes me want to groan, but it's something I can consider as well. Still, I don't want to lose the good bits I have in there.

    Carolina, painful is right. I definitely will be going the distance with this one to make it the best novel it can be. Thanks so much for your encouragement. I know it gonna work out just fine, it's just climbing the hurdles to come that feels really difficult right now.

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  6. Great heartfelt post. I think Carolina's response says it all. If you love your characters, then the torture you're facing is worth it. Taking advantage of the impartial feedback you got (if it feels right of course) will only make the story stronger.

    I've been there. It takes time to wrap your brain around how to tackle the changes. I usually dive into craft books that zero in on whatever issue I'm having, then I go back and reread the comments. Give them time to sink in. I recently read Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell (it includes some character stuff), and Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card and found them helpful. They gave me perspective on some comments I was working with.

    Good luck to you! Don't forget to breath :). I tend to grind my teeth.

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  7. Rula,

    Still trying to get my head around the changes I have to make, but I have a few ideas already. Those are useful books I should get my hands on. Going to read those comments again and think some more. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts.

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  8. I think the new snippet is much better. It was overwritten initially. I don't like fluttering eyelids, but that's a personal thing. But I do like the tighter writing of your revised snippet.

    Great post.

    It is hard to make changes to something as close to the heart as this one is. Wish I had some tips for you on how to get over infatuation with your characters. I'm not good at that myself.

    But, I do think it's best to watch for scenes that may be overwritten and scale back a bit on anything 'overly flowery'. It's hard for a lot of us to do because we tend to fall in love with our prose. But I think reducing fluff does bring more sparkle to the characters because it usually means there's more focus on the characters instead of the overwritten words.

    Hope that makes sense.

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  9. Hang in there. I know it sounds hard but if you've identified what needs to be cut and replaced then this is a great gift that you've been handed. It will allow your manuscript to grow into a thing of great beauty that with proper nourishment, will find its homes in the heart of every reader waiting for your words.

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  10. How wonderful to have such excellent crit partners who will tell you what you need to hear to make your story better. Keep up the hard work, it will definitely pay off.

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  11. Doralynn, true. I've kept looking at that first chapter, unsure and unable what to cut. I suppose part of my strategy has to be reading it out loud to see what sounds too writerly.

    Michael, thanks. I needed to hear that. It'll take time and I can only get it done one by fixing one word at a time.

    Jaydee, thanks. As one of my Aussie mates likes to say, my critique partners' blood is worth bottling. They're that good at what they do. :D

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  12. Can totally relate to the frustration part. If it makes you feel any better, I've written novels over multiple times--whole chapters, POVs, even plotlines. You're not alone. Far from it!

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  13. That's rough. I try not to fall in love with any of 'em. If they need to be axed, I save them for another WIP. They'll be reborn somewhere else. That thought helps me sleep at night.

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  14. Liz, wow, that's a lot of work. I have to admire your energy and dedication.

    Elizabeth, this trip, I think I might have to give the cheater's husband more oomph, so in this case, I'm creating a monster.

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  15. Good for you for listening to your CP's and readers. That's so necessary because our characters are tricky wenches whose early job is to lead us astray. At least mine are. I'm finishing up a major overhaul on my WiP, so I'm totally there with you in spirit.

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  16. True, Carol. Knowing when to listen and apply the wisdom that comes from other writers is key. I realize from looking at the first chapter last evening that the book will have to undergo a major rewrite.

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  17. That's a tough one. I try to think about each chapter and what it adds to the story, how it is essential. That helps make it a little easier to edit. Best of luck!

    Thanks for stopping by my blog and following. I love your blog and am glad we came across each other!

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  18. Heather, I like your strategy. As I write each novel, I learn different things and try to apply some of these methods to my work. I tackled the WiP I've had to lay aside like you do yours. I wrote a tabulated outline and one thing it asked for was the function of each chapter. I believe that's a good strategy. I should it this time around. Glad to meet you too, Heather!

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  19. Great line! "You think you have a project all nicely wrapped up, only the ribbon left to tie, and then the stuff inside starts leaking."

    Yes, I definitely hate when that happens. I'm working on a ms that has been torn apart and stitched back together ad nauseum.

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  20. Good luck getting that wrapped up in the near future, Elle.

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  21. I thought I was nearly done with my first draft of my WIP. I sent my second to last chapter to my crit buddy (and my ideal reader all wrapped up in one) and she sent it back saying no,no,no.

    I have to start over. My ending is not good enough. It's tough to let go of the original idea, heed the advice, and go forward.

    But guess what? My crit partner has never led me astray. She's usually right on the money. I figure, if she thinks it needs work, it more than likely does. I'd rather fix it now while I can.

    Good luck on the edits and by the way, "Heart thudding, she shuddered, squeezed her eyes shut and gasped his name. He answered with a groan, which fueled her climax." --Sexy!

    ~Angela

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  22. Thanks for sharing, Angela. I agree it's difficult to kiss the original plan goodbye, but I think I'm coming to terms. Of course, I'm putting the snippets away in another file I've created. Who knows, they may appear in another story. Good luck with your edits too!

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  23. Rewrites are such a pain, and it seems like they are endless. I remember I loved reading your 'Music Man', and I can certainly see why you're in love with these three women you created, since they feel so real in the way they communicate with each other.

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  24. I think the most important part is that you've identified the issues. It's never easy to do a major overhaul, but your story (and characters!) will be stronger for it. Good luck. :)

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  25. Tina, thanks. Indeed, these rewrites go on and on, but as we know, I don't have a choice.

    Tara, good point. Thanks!

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  26. Hang in there! Sometimes beauty requires pain. I'm sure your work will be at its most beautiful stage soon after you've made all the painful yet necessary adjustments.

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  27. hehe great post. We all glaze over with those rose coloured glasses at one time or another. We have to because we need to love our characters so much we want to write about them. It's the editing stage that hurts the most. Critiques from impartial, experienced readers/writers helps a ton!

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  28. I just rationalize I have to do what I have to do to get it where I want it to be - In front of readers.
    But I know its tough hang in there sweetie.

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  29. Oh I'm sorry that you're so discombobulated. I can fully understand. I enjoyed reading your improved snipped. It really is much better, both both excerpts sizzle. Hmm.

    I am in the process of slashing and burning my way through a mss and I'm actually enjoying it masochist that I am. I loved chipping away at words, baring them to the bone. Soon there'll be none left...

    Denise<3

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  30. This was really an indepth post. I like your passion for your art and your characters. In fact, this is a very passionate post--it sizzles.

    Lee
    Tossing It Out
    Twitter hashtag: #atozchallenge

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  31. Oh, I feel your pain. Sometimes it's really hard to find the heart and soul of a novel. Some works just need more time and work than others. This can be really frustrating. I find that stepping away from a novel for a while gives my mind a chance to sort through some of the issues. Keep the faith. You'll find your way with this one!

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  32. Nutschell, I can't wait to get to the beautiful stage. :D

    Lydia, yes the editing stage hurts the most.

    Joanna, yep, I'll be hanging in there to the bitter end!

    Thanks, Denise! I've digging in my heels and getting on with it.

    Thanks, Arlee. I want to write the best book I can every time. A passionate approach ensures that I get it done.

    Cynthia, yes, I did have to take some time to stop writing and just think through what I wanted to achieve.

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